In the last blog we had a look at various practical ways you can lose weight, including the most popular diet plans on the market, and in today’s edition I’d like to consider some of the psychological aspects. I believe in looking at weight issues holistically, as it’s rare that problems with overeating are “just” physical. Of course, good nutrition and physical activity are key elements in getting and staying slim and healthy, but looking at the “whys” of weight problems are just as important as the “hows” in my book.
Whether you’ve always been overweight, or whether it’s crept up on you relatively recently, in many cases it’s a simple question of eating more than you need.
Why do we eat too much? There are many reasons, but the most common ones I’ve encountered are:
• boredom – our lives, job, circumstances, whatever, are not stimulating us enough
• tiredness – we keep going by eating lots of sugary foods to compensate for lack of sleep
• sadness – a vicious circle of trying to make up for a feeling of emptiness inside, creating temporary relief, but quickly leading to feelings of disgust for overeating, and having to comfort eat to deal with the disgust and self-loathing.
• You don’t get the trigger to stop – this is related to messages from your stomach that send signals to your brain to tell you you’ve had enough. Not having the right amount of signal to help you know this means many of us eat far beyond what our body’s need and over time this leads to weight gain
One of these factors may particularly resonate with you, or you may experience a combination of all three. Whatever the reason – and your motivation for overeating may or may not be obvious to you – it ultimately comes down to not listening to and respecting what our body and mind are trying to tell us. There’s no silver bullet to dealing with what can be decades of emotional habits. But here are some pointers to get you started with the process:
• Get appropriate help if you think you have an eating disorder. Sometimes this can be tricky to properly identify as our culture has normalised obsession with eating to a large extent. If you find yourself compulsively overeating, and your health and personal relationships are suffering, you may benefit from professional intervention. Go to the website of Beat, the UK’s main charity for eating disorders and a great source of help and information: www.b-eat.co.uk
• Let yourself feel hungry. It can be easy to forget the pleasure of eating something your body actually craves. You might think that if you let yourself eat what you want, you’d spend all day scoffing Mars bars and crisps, but you may find yourself choosing other things that surprise you – like eggs or broccoli! I find it helpful to avoid labelling foods “bad” or “good” because it can make us feel that way when we eat them. If you truly listen to what your body wants, it will find the balance it needs. This can take a little while to get used to, particularly if you tend to eat out of habit and never really let yourself feel hungry. But it’s worth persevering – it can help you feel really in touch with your body, and meeting your physiological needs is also enormously psychologically satisfying.
• Learn to enjoy your food. You don’t have to be a great cook to savour your food and notice the different flavours you can identify. Try to eat mindfully, and concentrate on how it tastes and feels in your mouth. It’s all too easy to zone out in front of the TV and wolf down a whole takeaway or pizza without really noticing what you’re doing. By concentrating on how it tastes, you can learn again to take pleasure in fuelling your body, rather than seeing food as an enemy to overcome. Add to this the determination to eat more slowly so that you chew every mouthful thoroughly. Many of us eat too quickly and this doesn’t help
• Find alternative ways to deal with any anxiety issues. Many of us reach for a snack or an alcoholic drink (which is high in calories) when we’re feeling stressed. But difficult feelings need to be felt – if you try to stuff them down with food, they’ll only surface again until you do something with them. You might want to explore writing your feelings down in a journal, meditating, or simply going for a walk until you’re clearer about how you want to deal with them. If you’re feeling really angry punching a pillow is better than eating
• Experiment with affirmations. This may feel a little strange or awkward if you’ve never tried them before, but try to suspend your disbelief long enough to give it a try. No one ever lost weight, kept it off and felt happy about it by giving themselves and their body a hard time. In general, self-criticism only leads to more overeating. Try to get familiar with how your body looks in a mirror. Instead of calling yourself names when you see your reflection, try being gentle with yourself. Repeat to yourself, “I am willing to learn to love my body”. “I accept myself exactly as I am”. This doesn’t mean you won’t change, but all change starts with an acceptance of reality. Being gentle with yourself and your body is the best place to start.
• Join a group. If you are an emotional eater you may want to explore the support that attending a weight loss group offers you too. In this way you get to share your weekly experiences, talk the issues out, find solutions to something bothering you and thereby soothe the stress. Groups are well known for being able to achieve weight loss because they offer the regular accountability of being assessed or weighed too. This way you will feel a gentle pressure to do well rather than sabotage your efforts
• Eat higher protein foods. If you are over-eating because you feel you don’t get the message to stop then you may respond well to the high protein type of regimen because this is designed to help you feel fuller for longer. Fewer carbs rather than none at all also avoid the sweet trigger that sends you for more carbs then this becomes a vicious circle. Replacing that with higher protein foods still soothes your hunger but doesn’t end up in weight gain the same.
Whatever you decide to do good luck and let me know how you get on: